The end is in sight

As Matt Hancock told us this week, thanks to the wonders of science, 1.3 million people in the UK have now been vaccinated. Science is a field of endeavour previously closed to Britain by the EU, as he has pointed out many times. 

This is almost the same number of people who currently have the virus, which means we’ve vaccinated everyone. We’ve done it. And in record time.

But wait, not the same people, you say. Possibly, but it’s an unhelpful distinction only really of interest to public health experts, journalists and other known troublemakers.

Part of the problem is the vocal minority of Hancock deniers, sceptics who simply refuse to believe that the health secretary exists despite all the evidence to the contrary: his grave, cheerful, chiding and lachrymose performances for the cameras; his uplifting and occasionally factual tweets and the wildly successful test and trace system he has presided over – a system that is by all accounts the envy of the world. 

Without Mr Hancock and Baroness Harding we would have been unable to notch up yet another first for Britain. Where else have they had not one, not two, but three national lockdowns? It’s statistics like these that show just how seriously we’re taking this pandemic and the sheer scale of our response.

Disappearing without trace

Yet despite his pivotal role in the impressively pivoting government strategy, Mr Hancock appears to be fading and flickering like a hologram with an unreliable power source. Test and trace is, after all, yesterday’s news. We’ve moved on. 

If the test and trace programme was, as Dido Harding memorably put it, as big as Asda’s entire retail operation, then vaccination will be even bigger: the size of a lorry park in Kent or the whole of South America. 

So, after a long stint at the wicket made possible by a series of opposition wides and no balls, Matt has been instructed to retire to the pavilion to oil the bats, sort the pads and liberally sanitise the captain’s box. 

For at 59 minutes past the eleventh hour, the time has come for captain Johnson himself to step up to the crease. It’s not batting as we know it, rather a series of tactics to unnerve the bowlers and delight spectators – the deranged appearance, the wild strokes and frequent disputes with the umpire. “When the facts change, the rules have to change,” he yells, insisting that the latest run out was actually a clean drive over the boundary.

While the crowd roars its approval, poor Matt is left to pop his head out every so often to cheer on the team or declare the latest score – or the number of runs he expects to see before tea, whichever is the greater.

Following the science

So how is vaccination going? It’s “fantastic” declares Matt on Twitter, during a well-earned break from making the cucumber sandwiches. 

Fantastic indeed as the country passes the major milestone of 2% of the population covered – or rather partially covered. Controversially, it has been decided to delay the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, so that other people can have a turn before it all runs out or gets stockpiled in Felixstowe. 

Opinion was divided on whether or not the scheme was wise, but after a few days of being locked in a cupboard with a tube of Pringles and a small cup of water, the chief medical officers of the four nations agreed with the government’s considered view that while efficacy matters, headline numbers matter more.

Don’t worry, we won’t have to make do for much longer with shoddy US or continental European products. Decent, hard-working British brands from the Cotswolds are now available.

Yes, it’s here. A man named Brian, selected for his unmistakable Britishness, became the first person to receive a dose of the Oxford vaccine. “I’m really proud that it was the one invented in Oxford,” he was told to say.

It’s right to be concerned about your elderly relatives, but if they can’t get the jab immediately remind them that hanging on for the Oxford vaccine is the patriotic choice. 

Why settle for a foreign vaccine when you can get one that is (mainly) made in England?

Fools rush in 

In less advanced parts of the world, Israel expects to complete its vaccination programme within two-and-a-half months. Of course, Israel is a small country with a population of fewer than 10 million. In Britain, though the task is bigger, we could still be out of the woods as early as next Christmas – and remember the impressive size of our programme and the ambitious pace of the rollout. We should all be very proud.   

One of the reasons we’re not rushing into things is that, unlike the Israelis, who are prone to showing off, we put a premium on safety. Not just the safety of patients, important though that may be in certain situations, but the safety of politicians, civil servants and managers in our precious national bodies.

Safety first

This is why it’s vitally important that before we let an army of volunteer vaccinators loose on patients, we make sure that they have all the necessary qualifications and training in, among others, safe lifting and carrying, health and safety, and dispute resolution. 

Overly bureaucratic? Think again.

Consider the consequences of picking up a 5g syringe without bending the knees or, worse still, by the sharp end. Further imagine what might happen if an unattended toaster in the next room were to go up in flames while an untrained vaccinator was busy arguing with a practice nurse. 

As Captain Johnson is fond of saying, the end is in sight. Optimists will hope that this is true; pessimists will fear that he is right.

(c) 2021 Julian Patterson

Bev Heaver loses the plot: A Blithering Christmas story

Dr David Rummage sent a trophy icon to Plackard with a short message: “I think we have a winner!”

Bev Heaver’s “unpresentation” had passed the 40-minute mark, which meant that Rummage was on target to collect this year’s Christmas sweepstake. 

But help was on its way. Sir Trevor Longstay was tapping his pen on a large tub of Celebrations and glancing at his watch. “Surely not long now,” thought Plackard.

Sir Trevor, executive chair of the Blithering Them and Us Health and Care Partnership, cleared his throat as if to speak. Plackard involuntarily pumped the air with a pallid fist.

“Something to say, Plackard?” growled Longstay.

“Just a question for Bev,” Plackard said, recovering quickly. 

Rummage frowned. Interruptions were against the rules. The sweepstake was void. He’d take it up with Plackard after the meeting.

Bev Heaver smiled at Plackard. “What can we explore together, Martin?” she asked, inclusively.

Making it up as we go along

“I just wondered if you could, I mean we could, identify the essential elements of a change story,” Plackard said.

“Great question,” Heaver said, even though it wasn’t a question and she’d just spent the best part of an hour spelling it all out in painful detail. 

Her theme was “Making it Up as We Go Along: Leadership Stories for Our Change Journey”.  Story-telling, Heaver insisted, was one of the Seven Characteristics of Great Leaders (her capitals) along with active listening, enabling others to be heard, empowering people, showing vulnerability, reinventing other people’s ideas and positive thinkfulness.

The weekly meeting of the Blithering top team – thankfully the last of the year – had been treated to a number of familiar Heaverisms, which the chief transformation officer claimed to have “adapted”, by which she meant stolen from obscure academics or discredited management textbooks. 

Leading from the bottom

They included: “Old power paradigms involved telling people what to do, setting standards and goals, leading from the top, feeling responsible for what happened, hiding your feelings, and dwelling on the achievements of the past. 

“New power is all about asking, agreeing, leading from the bottom, letting go of responsibility, showing your human side by posting pictures of your dinner or your pets on social media, and focusing on your aims for the future, however far they may be from reality.” 

Despite Bev Heaver’s constant reminders of the importance of conversation, it was rare that she stopped talking for long enough to hold one. At this stage in the proceedings people were usually too awestruck (her word) or dazed (theirs) to do more than murmur assent. She leant into the screen as if to address Plackard’s request more intimately. The other participants on the call fought the urge to lean back. All except Sir Trevor, who gave in to the urge, toppling backwards and sending his chocolates flying as he disappeared from view. He reappeared a few seconds later, looking cross. 

Forging ahead

Bev Heaver forged ahead.  

“People have always told each other stories. It’s the first thing we do when we want to engage the imaginations of young children,” she said to Plackard in the manner of a parent engaging with a very young child. 

“It’s how we learn to learn, and later it’s about how we learn to share our learnings. Perhaps you have a story you’d like to share, Martin?”

The only story that occurred to Plackard involved keeping Sir Trevor’s name out of the papers after details of a questionable procurement had been “shared” by a disgruntled member of the finance team. He didn’t think that was quite what Heaver had in mind.

Plackard stared into his computer screen miserably, hoping for someone to throw him a lifeline. 

For once Rummage took pity on him.

Rummage waves his tool

“So, what does this template have to do with it?” Rummage asked, waving a copy of the document Heaver had asked them all to print in preparation for the meeting. It was a single side of A4 containing empty boxes with headings such as “back story”, “cast of characters” and “plot lines”.

“Think of it as a tool, a framework for constructing your own impactful story of change, your own compelling leadership narrative,” she said.    

“I notice that in these headings there’s nothing about outcomes or results. Nothing you’d call an ending or a conclusion,” said Rummage. “And nothing you’d call a plot.”

He was playing with fire. Participants on the call who had been surreptitiously checking emails or playing sudoku looked up from their phones. Plackard pressed “record” in the hope that he might be about to gather some footage to use against Rummage at a later date.

Direction of travel

To everyone’s disappointment, Heaver either did not notice Rummage’s sarcasm or pretended not to hear. Instead, she cast a mildly pitying look at the camera and declared that “outcomes were a very ‘old power’ concept”.

“We’re on a journey, David. We’re telling the story of that journey to each other so that we can bring others along with us, agree that we’re going in the right direction and co-plan our next journey together.”

Rummage was not giving up that easily. “So where are we actually going, why are we going there, when do we arrive, what are we going to do when we get there and how much is this trip going to cost?” he asked.

Plackard could feel his sphincter tighten with excitement. He wanted to look away, but couldn’t.

Longstay’s change journey

Again, Heaver proved impervious to outmoded notions of rational thought, and despite the onslaught of logic from Rummage, failed to self-destruct.

“More great questions!” she said. “David’s already writing his personal change story. Now, who else has something they’d like to share? What about a contribution from you, Sir Trevor?”

Somewhere in cyberspace a tub of Celebrations went flying and a knight of the realm parted company with his chair for a second time.  

It would enter Blithering folklore as Sir Trevor Longstay’s day of unexpected change journeys. And for many, it confirmed Bev Heaver’s status as NHS Blithering’s leading virtual thinker and strategist. 

(c) 2020 Julian Patterson

Thanks for reading the blog this year. If you like it, please tell other people and encourage them to subscribe. Sir Trevor and the rest of his team would like to wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy new year. And so would I.

Matt Hancock’s diary: my histrionic year

Me at my most credible and handsome

Sorry to anyone who’s been wondering why I haven’t published another instalment of my diaries for a while. Well, I’ve been pretty darned busy protecting Britain and our NHS from this ruddy pandemic. Sometimes posterity just has to wait.

Luckily, I’ve managed to snatch a few minutes every day to post something informative or encouraging on Twitter – and when I don’t have time to do it myself, Lucinda has a stock of material she can tweet on my behalf: happy Diwali, we’re still jolly committed to delivering 40 new hospitals and 50,000 nurses, thanks for all your hard work, together we’ll beat this ruddy virus, that sort of thing.

Anyway, I stayed up well past 11 o’clock last night to jot down a few thoughts about this momentous year from the point of view of someone who’s been very much on the front line.

Personal protection

Nobody has worked harder than me to ensure that the country has adequate supplies of masks, gowns, gloves, ventilators and other vital supplies to keep our NHS heroes safe. 

I’m afraid to say it’s sometimes been a thankless task. This stuff doesn’t just appear overnight, like things you order on Amazon Prime. There’s something called the supply chain that has to be overcome first – and everyone agrees I did a pretty ruddy good job of breaking it. I threw everything I had at the problem. 

Rishi told me that money was no object. He’s been saying that a lot. By the time anyone notices how much we’ve spent it will be someone else’s problem, he says. Rishi’s loaded: apparently his wife is immensely rich. That’s what you want in a Chancellor: someone who isn’t afraid to spend other people’s money.

It’s amazing how many offers of help you get when you have a blank cheque in your hand. Being a resourceful chap, I didn’t just rely on the usual suspects, but kept an eye out for new suppliers with the imagination to think out of the box. 

For instance, I got a text from the landlord of the pub I used to drink in. He said he had hosed down the bouncy castle in the pub garden and turned it into a “clean room – or cleanish, LOL” for making lab equipment – was I interested? You bet I was. This is just the entrepreneurial spirit that made Britain the greatest country in the world. 

When I told Lucinda, she said there was something called a procurement process that we had to follow. Lucinda can sometimes be a bit of a stickler for rules, but I explained to her that as these were unprecedented times we should create a “fast track” for agile suppliers that might not be on existing frameworks – starting with people in my contact book and anyone else who knows Mummy.

Needless to say, I got a bit of stick in the lefty media, except from Peston and Kuenssberg, who are true professionals. They are the only journalists who can expect one of my hand-made Christmas cards this year.

It’s also disappointing that the National Audit Office has been carping from the sidelines – or “scrutinising” as they call it – while we’ve been busy getting Covid done. 

I know that ordinary people will think £15bn is a lot to spend on PPE, particularly when half of the stuff we’ve bought is still sitting in containers at Felixstowe or racking up £1m a day in charges from Lok’nStore, but then they’re not in possession of all the facts – which, as Dom used to say, is how it should stay. 

I don’t let any of this get me down. As Boris rightly points out, the reputation of the government depends on the public’s perception of our pandemic response. “Don’t worry about the wonga,” he says, giving me a friendly dig in the ribs. “You can’t put a price on personal protection,” he adds, as he helps me to my feet.  

We also got a bit of flak about the test and trace system, despite the fact that we have the biggest one in the world. As Dido said, we’ve built something the size of Asda’s entire retail operation in the space of a few months. That shut a few people up. D is brilliant at coming up with meaningful comparisons.     

Yes, to someone without experience of the workings of government, the £22.3m paid to Deloitte may sound like a lot. But let’s put this in perspective. That’s a mere 0.1% of the overall cost of Test and Trace, which by any reasonable standard is excellent value for money.

Again, I have to say that the National Audit Office have not been helpful. There’s a time and a place for accountability and, as Govey says, it’s rarely now. Until then, the NAO should remember the fate of the Audit Commission and put a ruddy sock in it.

SAGE and onion

I’m often asked what it’s like to attend Cabinet meetings. Well, you might be surprised to learn that while we mostly concentrate on important matters of state there are also lighter moments. 

I usually bring a box of Krispy Kremes or takeaway pizza for everyone. Priti Patel is often the first to come back with some good-natured banter along the lines of “You f***ing little creep, Hancock” or “Who invited the intern?” 

She has a wicked sense of humour, but I’m afraid not everyone gets it.

Tears for Piers: Good Morning Britain presenter is clearly moved by my performance

Priti can also be very kind. I can reveal that I was quite worried about my recent appearance on Good Morning Britain where, to celebrate the amazing British PR achievement of being the first country in the world to use the Pfizer vaccine (thanks to Brexit), it was agreed that I should shed some “convincing tears”.

Things didn’t go terribly well in practice sessions. Onions are good for making your eyes water, but I couldn’t risk Piers catching me peeling one before I went on air. Lucinda told me to stick a pin in my leg or think of something sad. I thought of Govey getting my job, but to be honest, that just gave me the giggles. 

It was only when Priti agreed to shout at me for a couple of miniutes that the tears really began to flow. 

Later, when the cameras were rolling, I just closed my eyes and thought of handing Priti a chocolate iced doughnut and – well the rest is history. Everyone agreed that I gave a pretty convincing performance.

My moment of triumph was only slightly diminished when Govey explained that what the comms team had really been after was for me to produce some evidence of “convincing tiers” in the run-up to Christmas. He did concede that it was an easy mistake to make. “Besides,” he added kindly, “it can be quite useful that people feel so sorry for you all the time.”

I can honestly say that without the support of my colleagues I’m not sure how I’d have got the country through this year.  

As told to Julian Patterson

(c) 2020 Julian Patterson

UK first to roll out scotch eggs amid protests from anti-snaxxers

The UK this week became the first country in the world to approve the use of scotch eggs in the fight against coronavirus. 

A version of the sausage-meat and breadcrumb covered snack developed by foods giant Ginsters could be rolled out as early as next week, allowing pubs to open their doors and life to get back to normal for millions of Britons.

‘Perfectly safe’

The prime minister and senior members of the government hailed the news as a major step forward in the national recovery from the effects of the pandemic, but concerns were raised about the safety of the products by so-called anti-snaxxers, the vocal lobby opposed to all forms of bar food.

They claim that scotch eggs can cause infertility, complications in pregnancy, autism, persistent flatulence and other chronic conditions.

The government insisted that scotch eggs are perfectly safe and denied that regulatory agencies had cut corners to get them to market before closing time.

Egg passports

It also moved to quash suggestions that people would only be admitted to pubs and other hospitality venues if they had documentary proof that they had eaten a meat encased egg within the past week. 

Sir Desmond Swayne gave an impassioned speech to the Westminster Parliament in which he reminded the government that any attempt to make the snack compulsory would be an unprecedented infringement of civil liberties. 

For the government, Michael Gove, the cabinet office minister, said there were no plans to introduce “egg passports” or to make the consumption of scotch eggs compulsory.

Appearing on Good Morning Britain, Mr Gove floundered under questioning from presenter Piers Morgan when asked how many scotch eggs would constitute a “substantial dose” and whether a pork pie or dry roasted peanuts would offer similar levels of protection for drinkers.

Hancock’s Breggsit claim  

The minister for health Matt Hancock also courted controversy when he and other leading Conservatives suggested that the UK had only been able to fast-track the approval of the first batch of eggs because EU restrictions no longer applied post-Brexit. 

EU officials denied that the British withdrawal had helped the UK to be the first to grant approval. “It’s nothing to do with regulation. Only the Brits would serve up such an abomination with their warm beer. I hope they go well with fish,” said Michel Barnier. 

Some confusion remains over who will be at the head of the queue when scotch egg production begins in earnest, though Jacob Rees Mogg has hinted that boys from public schools and members of his own family would likely top the list.

The Oxford egg

The government has warned that while the first batch of eggs will start to reach those in greatest need within the next few weeks, most of the population will have to wait until early next year when the British-developed Oxford egg becomes available in volume.

Urging people to be cautious and to continue to follow government snacking guidelines in the run-up to Christmas, prime minister Boris Johnson nevertheless sounded a note of optimism when he appeared on television on Wednesday evening clutching a pint of Old Peculiar and a large bag of pork scratchings. 

“Now this is not the egg. It is not even the beginning of the egg. But it is, perhaps, the egg of the beginning,” he said.

UK first to roll out scotch eggs amid protests from anti-snaxxers

The UK this week became the first country in the world to approve the use of scotch eggs in the fight against coronavirus. 

A version of the sausage-meat and breadcrumb covered snack developed by foods giant Ginsters could be rolled out as early as next week, allowing pubs to open their doors and life to get back to normal for millions of Britons.

‘Perfectly safe’

The prime minister and senior members of the government hailed the news as a major step forward in the national recovery from the effects of the pandemic, but concerns were raised about the safety of the products by so-called anti-snaxxers, the vocal lobby opposed to all forms of bar food.

They claim that scotch eggs can cause infertility, complications in pregnancy, autism, persistent flatulence and other chronic conditions.

The government insisted that scotch eggs are perfectly safe and denied that regulatory agencies had cut corners to get them to market before closing time.

Egg passports

It also moved to quash suggestions that people would only be admitted to pubs and other hospitality venues if they had documentary proof that they had eaten a meat encased egg within the past week. 

Sir Desmond Swayne gave an impassioned speech to the Westminster Parliament in which he reminded the government that any attempt to make the snack compulsory would be an unprecedented infringement of civil liberties. 

For the government, Michael Gove, the cabinet office minister, said there were no plans to introduce “egg passports” or to make the consumption of scotch eggs compulsory.

Appearing on Good Morning Britain, Mr Gove floundered under questioning from presenter Piers Morgan when asked how many scotch eggs would constitute a “substantial dose” and whether a pork pie or dry roasted peanuts would offer similar levels of protection for drinkers.

Hancock’s Breggsit claim  

The minister for health Matt Hancock also courted controversy when he and other leading Conservatives suggested that the UK had only been able to fast-track the approval of the first batch of eggs because EU restrictions no longer applied post-Brexit. 

EU officials denied that the British withdrawal had helped the UK to be the first to grant approval. “It’s nothing to do with regulation. Only the Brits would serve up such an abomination with their warm beer. I hope they go well with fish,” said Michel Barnier. 

Some confusion remains over who will be at the head of the queue when scotch egg production begins in earnest, though Jacob Rees Mogg has hinted that boys from public schools and members of his own family would likely top the list.

The Oxford egg

The government has warned that while the first batch of eggs will start to reach those in greatest need within the next few weeks, most of the population will have to wait until early next year when the British-developed Oxford egg becomes available in volume.

Urging people to be cautious and to continue to follow government snacking guidelines in the run-up to Christmas, prime minister Boris Johnson nevertheless sounded a note of optimism when he appeared on television on Wednesday evening clutching a pint of Old Peculiar and a large bag of pork scratchings. 

“Now this is not the egg. It is not even the beginning of the egg. But it is, perhaps, the egg of the beginning,” he said.

(c) 2020 Julian Patterson

Netflix asked to make it clear that The Government is a work of fiction

Viewers should be given a clear message that popular television drama The Government is a work of fiction, the actor playing a minister said last week.

Oliver Dowden, who has a minor part as minister for culture, said “Because The Government frequently uses artistic licence, younger views in particular may not understand that what is being presented to them as fact is actually fiction.”

Critics have cast doubt on the veracity of several scenes, questioning whether they could have happened in real life.

Much of the criticism centres on the character of Boris Johnson, played by an actor best known for comedy roles. In the drama Johnson is shown conspiring to have a journalist beaten up, sleeping with and impregnating numerous women before abandoning them, getting stuck on a zipwire, suffering from Churchillian delusions, dithering over important decisions and demonstrating a complete lack of judgement, morality and principle at every turn.

“The real Boris is nothing like the figure we see portrayed in The Government, who appears to be completely made up,” Dowden said.

In one episode, which comes in for particular criticism, the principal characters are required to lead the country out of a crisis when the world is gripped by a pandemic.

Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock

“Clearly this whole episode was completely exaggerated,” said MP John Redwood, who claimed that the writers had run out of ideas. “It’s inconceivable that a British prime minister would curtail individual liberty, put businesses in jeopardy and order a nationwide lockdown, just because a few people had a nasty dose of the flu.”

Other characters greeted with disbelief include Matt Hancock, the secretary of state for health and social care, played by a previously unknown actor and unanimously slated by critics as “completely unconvincing”, Michael Gove (“a two-dimensional baddie who is impossible to take seriously”, according to the TV critic for The Times) and Baroness Harding, whose only previous acting role was in a TV advert for a mobile phone company.

“She couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag,” said one of the producers, “which is why we’re lining her up for the role of head of the NHS in the next series.”   

(c) 2020 Julian Patterson

Lego Pandemic – now with more incredible figures than ever

Amuse your children this Christmas without overwhelming the NHS with the most ambitious construction kit ever: Lego Pandemic Test and Trace: Survival Mission.

They’ll have months of fun trying to work out how all the pieces fit together, which parts are missing and who to blame. They will be so busy they won’t want to leave the house – even if they could.

The kit is the brainchild of the Department of Health and Social Care, Deloitte (who are writing the assembly instructions), Serco and other partners too expensive to mention. 

The manufacturers claim their latest set is great for stimulating young minds as they work to save the population from an imaginary pandemic using nothing more than some plastic bricks, a few thousand management consultants and £12 billion. 

“It’s got the most incredible figures ever – and we don’t just mean the price tag!” said a Lego spokesperson.

The challenge is to construct a model that can get the R rate down before it’s too late. It’s all the more fun because it’s a race against time. Take too long and granny won’t be there on Christmas Day whether the lockdown rules are relaxed or not. Fail to put all the pieces in the right place and thousands more will die.

Amaze everyone by pretending you can perform thousands of tests a day long before you really can (tip: if your siblings are on to you and threatening to call a press conference, distract them with the Lego Apollo XI Moonshot Set – available never).

Improve your presentation and dissembling skills by holding daily briefings with authentic chief medical officer and secretary of state figures (purchase separately as the Lego Fall Guy Set).

Build some extra hospitals just in case your Test and Trace system is not finished in time. Use any old Lego buildings and rename them Nightingales. Don’t forget to fill them with doctors and nurses (currently out of stock).

Make sure your system has full national coverage by purchasing extra Management Consultant figures (£2000 each – only available in packs of 1000) and Serco operative add-on packs (instructions and training optional).

Don’t forget to do something about care homes, part of the Lego Social Care range (discontinued).

Make sure you equip everyone with personal protective equipment (PPE), preferably before you start. Have hours of fun deciding which of your suppliers to put in the fast lane and which ones are going to have to wait in line for contracts (tip: perhaps start with the ones you went to school with or who know your parents).  

The Pandemic set features some of our most lifelike figurines ever, including:

  • The Matt Hancock man-of-action figure with interchangeable grave and enthusiastic expressions. Comes with own horse and stable door (bolt available separately)
  • Flameproof Dido Harding figure. Needs to be purchased separately as part of the exclusive Lego Cronies set
  • Simon Stevens figure with fully raisable eyebrows
  • Chris Whitty figure with integral wheels for ease of rolling out at briefings
  • Roving Dominic Cummings figure – comes with range of unbelievable explanations, eye test kit and separate box for clearing desk
  • PPE procurement go-between figure (£21m extra)
  • Lego Prime Minister with clip-on hair, authentic clapping hands and range of different modes including clown and Churchillian statesman. Have fun making him up as you go along, just like the real PM

Having trouble putting it all together? Experiencing breathing difficulties as a result of anything the government has asked you to swallow? Please direct any complaints about missing parts or family members to the NHS, which will be picking up the pieces long after you’ve given up hope of ever getting your Lego Pandemic finished. 

(c) 2020 Julian Patterson

Sir Trevor keeps it safe

“Where have you been, Plackard?” asked Sir Trevor Longstay.

“You may recall that you ordered me to self-isolate and work from home in March,” Plackard replied. “Even though I had no symptoms,” he was tempted to add.

“One can never be too careful,” Longstay said. “Anyway, you’re back now.”

Plackard cut short the pleasantries. He had a virtual meeting to run.

“I think you’re on mute, Sir Trevor,” he said. “Press the little microphone symbol at the bottom of the screen.”

“Don’t be ridiculous man. How are we having this conversation if you can’t hear me?”

“Just a moment,” said Plackard, getting up and rounding the thin partition that separated his desk from Sir Trevor’s.

“You just need to click here,” Plackard said, pointing to the screen.

Blithering’s director of pandemic emergency communications left Sir Trevor rubbing his computer with a sanitary wipe and returned to his desk to restart the Zoom call.

“Can everyone hear me?” he asked. The attendees confirmed that they could.  

A head appeared above a partition in the corner of the room. It was Dr David Rummage, Blithering’s interim director of public health. 

“This is ridiculous. We can hear each other perfectly well without being online. We’re all in the same bloody room,” Rummage said.

“We need to follow the guidelines. No face to face meetings,” Plackard replied. “Virtual is the new normal. We need to let go of old meeting paradigms and embrace the medium, which is why I’ve asked Bev Heaver to talk to us interactively today. Are you there, Bev?”

Blithering’s chief transformation officer waved from the other side of the office.

“I can hear you loud and clear, Martin,” she said.

“You’re not coming through my headphones. You need to find the microphone icon, bottom left of your screen,” said Plackard.

Embracing the medium

While Heaver embraced the medium and tried to persuade it to share her screen, Plackard explained that everyone needed to be online so that they could record the call for the benefit – or “learning” – of those who had been unable to attend the live event. “No one will ever have to miss a meeting again,” he said.

Bev Heaver spent the next hour illustrating how the pandemic had created unprecedented opportunities for new slides and diagrams. 

Collaboration would in future both be asynchronous and synchronous, she said, but what would that mean for “the conversation”? 

There were many other questions. She appeared to have thought of them all.

How would leaders themselves need to evolve? Was it possible to be digital in a non-binary world? Could you have a burning platform online and would it be safe? 

How could change agents use the new media to lead from the bottom, the middle, the edge or all three places at once?

Was there a role for kindness? What would that look like? What should be the organising principle for managing complexity and how do we get everyone in the same room to co-design it? 

Would inequalities of technical literacy make it harder to include some people than others? 

As if to illustrate the last point, Heaver’s slide deck suddenly disappeared, and an image of a pack of playing cards appeared in its place. Rummage muttered an apology and closed his solitaire game.   

Plackard seized his opportunity before Heaver could regain control of her slides, and announced a comfort break.

The new usual

The afternoon session started with a lively discussion about whether business as usual was still a relevant term. Bev Heaver thought not and suggested that we refer instead to “the new usual” to signal our wholesale rejection of the old version. Rummage asked what would happen when, after a few months of the new usual, the novelty inevitably wore off: “Would we revert to ‘usual’ or call it something else? Perhaps we could bring back ‘normal’.” 

Heaver thought this was an important enough question to warrant breaking out the flip chart paper, but Sir Trevor intervened to keep the agenda on track.

Passionate about disapproval 

He had important news of his own that he was keen to share. He revealed that during lockdown he had embarked on “a journey of personal activism” to help the disadvantaged. His #VerySeniorLivesMatter campaign aimed, he said, to end discrimination against and negative perceptions of very senior managers in the public sector. 

This group of predominantly white males were, he explained, subjected to daily acts of interference and humiliation by politicians and civil servants on the one hand, and frequently undermined by their junior colleagues on the other. Very senior individuals were subject to constant scrutiny and they were unfairly blamed when things went wrong. Often they were forced out of their jobs into other highly paid positions where the cycle of suffering and despair began again. 

Plackard commiserated with Sir Trevor but wondered aloud whether this was the right time to highlight the plight of senior managers, with the world in the shadow of various existential crises and with other, equally worthy causes in the offing.

Sir Trevor disagreed. “I cannot stand by and witness injustice without registering strong disapproval,” he said, making the depth of his feeling clear. 

This won’t hurt a bit

It was left to David Rummage to brief the executive team on plans to put local GP networks in charge of delivering the imminent Covid-19 vaccine. 

Rummage explained that the funds would be held by the local integrated care system (ICS). 

“It’s important to have a process with appropriate governance, assurance, management controls and checkpoints. Otherwise the money might reach practices too fast,” he said.

“Yes, and ideally a process dominated by secondary care providers,” said Sir Trevor, approvingly. 

There were still a few small hurdles to overcome, Rummage admitted: logistics, maintaining existing services alongside a full-time vaccination programme (including critical form-filling and reporting functions), the availability of suitable premises, exhaustion, a demoralised workforce.

But GPs were used to working under these conditions and enjoyed problem-solving, he added. The popular new GP networks would be a big help too.

“PCNs are definitely the way forward, particularly in those areas where the practices are actually talking to each other,” Rummage said.

“It will be a good test of the system’s ability to collaborate to get things done,” said Sir Trevor. “And if, heaven forbid, things don’t go according to plan…” he tailed off. 

“We’ll be right behind our GPs,” Plackard said. “At a suitably safe distance, of course.”

“Exactly, Plackard,” said Sir Trevor. “Safety is always our first concern.”

(c) 2020 Julian Patterson